An orphaned 19-year-old who participated in paramilitary drills with a white nationalist group was charged with murder Thursday in the deaths of 17 people who were fatally shot at a huge Florida high school in the nation's deadliest school attack in five years. As the criminal case against the suspect took shape, the leader of a white nationalist militia called the Republic of Florida said Nikolas Cruz was a member of his group and participated in exercises in Tallahassee. Jordan Jereb told the AP that did not know Cruz personally and that "he acted on his own behalf" and is "solely responsible for what he just did."
The group wants Florida to become its own white ethno-state. Jereb said his organization holds "spontaneous random demonstrations" and tries not to participate in the modern world. He also said Cruz had "trouble with a girl" and that he believed the timing of the attack, on Valentine's Day, was not a coincidence. Authorities offered no immediate details about a possible motive, except to say that Cruz had been kicked out of the high school, which has about 3,000 students. Students who knew him described a volatile teenager whose strange behavior had caused others to end friendships with him. Cruz legally purchased the AR-15 rifle used in the assault at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, law enforcement officials told the AP.
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